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Facilitated Communication and Autism Ranking: Mildly Hazardous Limited negative evidence

Status Research

Studies

There are a number of limitations to all of the research studies published to date. In part this could be explained by the fact that the majority of the studies took place in the1990’s, a time when some authors were less rigorous in how they reported their work. For example, many of the studies we identified did not provide sufficient data about the participants in the study (such as age and gender, whether they had a formal diagnosis of autism etc.).

There were a number of other significand limitations to the studies. For example:

  • The majority of the studies included less than 10 participants. Some of the studies included three or less participants.
  • The majority of the studies used single-case design methodologies (such as multiple baseline, reversal design or simple case series).
  • A minority of the studies used an open label trial format but no comparison control group. The two studies that did have a control group did not use randomisation or blinding.
  • Some of the studies were undertaken by researchers who were not independent of the intervention being studied. Those researchers may therefore have been biased towards the intervention, however unconsciously.

For a comprehensive list of potential flaws in research studies, please see ‘Why some autism research studies are flawed’

Reviews

There have been a number of research reviews of facilitated communication published in peer-reviewed journals. We agree with the review by Mostert (2001) which concluded:

“The results of the review support and confirm the conclusions reached by previous reviewers of the empirical FC literature. The divide between the results of studies incorporating control procedures find very little to no support for the efficacy of FC, studies employing fewer control procedures produce mixed results, and studies ignoring control procedures almost universally find FC to be effective. In the cases of the few, tentative positive results emerging from studies reporting some form of control procedures, as in the cases of Cardinal et al. (1996) and Weiss et al. (1996), these results are much more likely the artifact of methodological problems than an accurate representation of persuasive evidence. However, should researchers so choose, there is still much work to be done related to FC, both theoretically and experimentally. Theoretically, many questions remain related to FC proponents’ stance on anecdotal versus scientific evidence, the critique of Green and Shane (1994) and Biklen and Duchan’s (1994) response notwithstanding. As this review makes clear, the correspondence of evidence or lack thereof appears correlated to the methodological means of obtaining that evidence. Any hope of establishing credibility for FC, as unrealistic as that may be, can only come from increased experimental rigor. At a more philosophical, level, Hudson’s (1995) challenge to the weak theoreticl underpinnings of FC should be addressed by FC proponents given that current theoretical perspectives of FC are, at best, unformed”.

Updated
31 Oct 2017
Last Review
01 May 2017
Next Review
01 May 2020